Revisiting the census debate

So we know what the NHS will produce, now what?
An employee make his way to work at Statistics Canada in Ottawa on July 21, 2010. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says public service spending cuts have mostly focused on service delivery, contradicting the Harper government’s assurances that cuts would spare front-line resources. Statistics Canada will take the largest proportional loss, losing a third of its staff according to the study. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In the process of arguing that we need to move on from the census, Philip Cross says the business community wasn’t much bothered by the elimination of the long-form census. He cites a few examples, but other groups were less unconcerned. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business had “grave concerns.” The CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade signed a letter expressing concern. And an internal survey of members of the Canadian Association of Business Economics found most opposed the change.

Jan Kestle and Vivek Goel, meanwhile, hope for a renewed debate.

We hope that Wednesday’s release of the NHS initiates a discussion about the importance of reliable national statistics. We recognize that the debates in the summer of 2010 may have been emotional at times. We trust that now, with knowledge of how the NHS has actually fared, we can have an informed discussion about whether it meets the collective needs of a large country and its communities.

But if the private sector can be left to fend for itself, as Cross seems to suggest, what of the public sector? The National Statistics Council released a proposal in 2010: keep the mandatory long form census, review the questions asked along strict criteria,  amend the Statistics Act to remove the threat of prison time and eliminate questions on household activities. Other international models were explored here, here and here.